Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I’ve wanted to read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for so many years now. Ever since I studied Plath’s poetry in Advanced Higher English when I was 17 this book has been on my list. I just never got around to it… I think anyone who reads can relate to the feeling of having a pile of books you want to read getting bigger and bigger before you’ve actually managed to read them all.

Anyway, because I’m on summer break from university at the moment I’ve had the opportunity to read books of my own choice for a change. I’ve been reading other people’s blog posts about The Bell Jar and because of some changes I’ve gone/am going through in my own life at the moment I thought now would just be the perfect time to read it.

I won’t lie, I wasn’t initially grabbed by it. It took my a good 70 or so pages before I was truly invested in Esther Greenwood and the story, but when I think about it that goes for most books with me.

One thing I decided almost immediately was that I wasn’t a fan of the character Doreen, she seemed self absorbed, vain and obnoxious and, honestly, whenever her character was involved in the story it irritated me.

The first half of the book was, I suppose, establishing the situation Esther was in and the stage in her life she was at. For reasons that obviously become apparent she seems completely dissatisfied with her life and her relationships. As a reader I found this slightly uncomfortable to read (not in a bad way, it’s good when books evoke a reaction from their readers!) because I have this uncontrollable need to make sure people are having a good time and when I read about Esther being at parties or with friends and clearly having an absolutely shit time I just wanted to pass the girl a drink, put her favourite song on and get her to have a boogie… well, try.

One of my FAVOURITE things about The Bell Jar was Plath’s writing style. Her poetry is, perhaps, what she’s most famous for (unfortunately, other than her infamous personal struggles) and I was curious to see how she dealt with writing in such a different format. To my surprise her style of writing was incredible readable and easy to understand, but you could still tell that it was the same woman who’d written such brilliant poetry who was writing. The descriptions were amazing, at points I just had to pause and think “wow that was so well written”. She conveyed Esther’s experiences perfectly and this extended later into the novel when things became a lot darker.

When “the bell jar descended” upon Esther and her mental health really took a turn for the worse, that’s when I really became fully engaged in the book. Suddenly, we weren’t in this glamorous world of journalism and high society, we were in a mental ward with Esther enduring badly conducted electrotherapy. The visceral descriptions of this treatment were difficult to read but, to me, incredibly interesting as were the parts of the novel that took place inside different hospitals. I really think anybody who’s suffered from mental health problems, particularly depression, would find this an interesting read.

The ending of the story is bitter sweet. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, but one of the reasons it’s so famous is because of Plath’s death just one month after it’s publication. So, naturally, this is a very dark read, but one that I think is worthwhile to anybody interested in literature and/or learning about mental health.

Until next time,

J x

this road is red alison irvine review

Books about Glasgow: Past and Present

The title of this post is probably a slight misrepresentation of what I’m going to talk about today. I’ve recently read 2 different, unrelated books about/set in Glasgow. One was written in 1992, Poor Things by Alasdair Gray (Click here!), and one in 2011, This Road is Red by Alison Irvine (Click here!). So when I say “past and present” I really mean “not really written that far apart in the grand scheme of things” but let’s just brush over that.

Poor Things – Alasdair Gray

poor things alasdair gray review

I recently read Poor Things for one of my English courses and then wrote on it in my exam (let’s not ponder that too much). Despite it having been published in 1992 the bulk of the book is set around the late 19th – early 20th century. It is the memoirs of Archibald McCandless and his experience with an old friend and his wife Bella Baxter. Without spoiling too much he describes how his friend and physician (Godwin, cleverly named I imagine) found a pregnant woman after a suicide attempt and salvaged her body and the brain of the fetus and created, essentially, a new human being from the two. Archibald then met and fell in love with this woman, Bella, despite her having the mind of a child. After McCandless finishes telling his story and we find, has died, Bella is left with the manuscript and adds her version of events on to the end.

The book won both the Whitbread Novel Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1992 and has been acclaimed for its intertextuality (frequently compared to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and full of Gothicism). Personally, I found it an engaging read and whether you’re from Glasgow or not I would recommend it. If you are from Glasgow though, you’ll recognise many of the landmarks referenced throughout the book, such as Park Circus and Charing Cross.

This Road is Red – Alison Irvine

this road is red alison irvine review

This book, in my mind, is decidedly more modern than Poor Things. It is set from the 1960’s to the late 2000’s, the majority of the lifespan of Glasgow’s Red Road flats. The flats garnered a lot of attention over the years, being the highest residential blocks in Europe when they went up and becoming an infamous slum in their later years. It’s no surprise that now, after they’ve been demolished, they remain culturally and historically significant.

I enjoyed this book so much. It contains so many different, interwoven, stories (almost in the style of Love Actually). Each of the stories is full, well rounded and interesting which makes each chapter of the book refreshing and exciting to read. Again I’d recommend this book wherever you are from. Simply as a work of fiction I rate it quite highly, but knowing that it is grounded in reality makes it all the more captivating. The book was also shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year award at the Saltire Society Awards in 2011.

I hope you enjoyed this little book post 🙂 if you’ve read either of these books or have any other suggestions please comment below!

Until next time,

J x

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of my favourite books for many many reasons. I read it about 3 years ago when I was in my last year of secondary school. I read it along with The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and wrote my “dissertation” (technically what it was called but it was only about 4,000 words long) on them.

Some books stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page and, for me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of those books. It was the first book I ever cried my eyes out at (despite everyone calling me heartless for not crying at Rue’s death in The Hunger Games).

Charlie is an introverted adolescent boy just starting high school in America. Throughout the book, which is written in epistolary (letter) form from Charlie’s perspective, we slowly start to understand the somewhat unusual way Charlie sees the world. He is incredibly passive and, in many situations, goes completely unnoticed by other characters, simply witnessing other people’s lives and never really living his own. Patrick, one of the other main characters, remarks on this at a party and says:

“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

This is, of course, where the book gets it’s name. After befriending Patrick and Sam Charlie begins to grow in confidence and his letters become more positive. The book explores many topics such as abuse, sexuality, mental illness and the role of authority in young people’s lives.

Ultimately the exploration of all of these themes boils down to one overarching message, which Chbosky puts very succinctly:

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

This line struck me because, at least in my opinion, it is largely true. I know so many people who have allowed themselves to be treated badly due to low self esteem. When Charlie reiterates his teacher’s poignant words to Sam there is a kind of quiet clarity. The entire purpose of the novel becomes apparent and all of the different character’s stories are put into perspective.

Chbosky’s writing is simple, easy to understand and almost child like at points. His art, however, lies in his subtlety and his ability to write an enamouring, emotionally driven novel.

The Perks of being a wallflower book review

I can’t write a review on the book without mentioning the movie. The script was written and directed by Chbosky, which means it remains very true to the book. The film is incredibly nostalgic, as is the book, referencing old TV shows, songs and films throughout. It is, of course, set in the 90’s so the fashion is always eye catching (if at some points questionable). The sets are colourful and traditionally American which, even if you’re not from America, adds a sense of familiarity.

Emma Watson - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Lastly, the casting of the film could not have been better. You may not know this yet but Emma Watson may be my favourite human on earth, so as soon as I found out she was going to be in the film I was SOLD. Logan Lerman played Charlie with the nuance and emotional complexity that was necessary for the role and I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Ezra Miller, who played Patrick, has been known for his impressive performances in other films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and he proved his diversity as an actor in this film, portraying sweet-natured yet exuberant Patrick perfectly.

Well I think that’s just about all I have to say for now (other than if you haven’t read this book GO READ IT NOW). I hope you enjoyed this and thank you for reading. Comment below if you also love this book or want to suggest any other books I might like 🙂

Until next time,

J x